Musings: Green Technology
During the Great Depression, the Works Project Administration (WPA) launched a remarkable public education campaign tapping the nation’s unemployed artists to create art deco posters promoting safety, good health, conservation of natural resources, community involvement and other American values.
"Cellar ceilings must be flame retarded. Keep cellars clear." "Don’t kill our wild life." "Save your eyes. Use your goggles." "Discover Puerto Rico…where the Americas meet." At a time when Americans faced monumental economic, environmental and moral challenges — rivaling our current tinderbox of global crises — our government foresaw the wisdom in educating its citizens collectively to raise the country above its challenges. While wearing safety goggles would not single-handedly bring an end to the Depression, it was a small step towards ensuring that one less family might lose its wage earner through occupational injury. It was a way to pull the country together through a common cause.
We face no less dire circumstances at our 2008 crossroads. Terrorism, environmental devastation, food and water shortages, health epidemics, lack of access to healthcare and a national energy crisis are challenges that can only be solved by collective effort on the part of all citizens, not legislators moving at the speed of bureaucracy. It is widely believed that higher education is the key to success and mobility for Americans, yet our lack of general public education is astounding. Imagine what we can accomplish when we have the facts and information we need to make smart choices about energy use, taking care of our health and creating strong families and communities.
There are hopeful signs this education is beginning to happen. On TV and in magazines and newspapers, we are seeing advertisements and articles educating people about energy conservation and how important the little things are like turning off lights, shutting off idling cars and shopping with reusable bags instead of disposable plastics. Like using safety goggles, shutting off lights won’t stop global warming, but it’s a step in the right direction. Then we need to see these messages and read the same energy saving tips over and over again before we can begin to change our ways of thinking and doing things.
The giant spike in fuel prices has finally put Americans’ feet to the fire to wake up and become aware of our problem of energy waste and addiction. We’ve been sleeping for 30 years, since Jimmy Carter left office and his solar panels on the White House roof and energy conservation initiatives were dismantled. If we had heeded his vision of making America energy independent by pursuing alternative energy research and efficiency in the 1970’s, we would be up and running with our own advanced energy technologies at this time. We would have no need to meddle in Middle East affairs for their oil. Instead of spending $500 billion over five years on the Iraq war and $15 billion during the same period on PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), we could have reversed those numbers and spent $500 billion to eradicate AIDS and malaria (and maybe even hunger, too!) from the planet, and given just $15 billion over for defense. And we would have contributed something priceless to humanity.
Let’s not make the same mistakes we made 30 years ago with only our selfish, shortsighted goals in mind. Educating our citizens about the problem and the solutions is critical to our success; American energy policy must be founded on conservation and alternative energy sources, not deepening our dependence on fossil fuels by drilling in new locations, risking further environmental damage to our fragile ecosystems. We need to learn what we can do now to reduce our use, and use what we have more efficiently, and we need to hold our lawmakers accountable. At www.wecansolvetheclimatecrisis.com, a project of The Alliance for Climate Protection founded by Al Gore, the former vice president testifies that "…there are no technical or material impediments to achieving the goal of 100% clean electricity within ten years. The only thing missing is political will."
Three decades of research time lost right when we need it the most means we will need to reduce our consumption until our energy technology catches up. High fuel prices are "helping" us think creatively about efficiency. For instance, commercial planes are now conserving fuel using a graduated step approach during landing. Consumers are aware of buying Energy Star energy-efficient appliances. We are paying a higher price now for things we should have paid attention to long ago by not considering what it means to be on a crowded planet with rising demands, dwindling natural resources and increasing climate change. Will the hope and ingenuity of the American spirit rise to this new challenge in our lives? Time will tell.
Carol Bedrosian is the publisher and editor of Spirit of Change Magazine.